In today’s Journal
* Dean’s offer to learn
* Very long topic today
* Topic: How to Quiet the Critical Voice (Chapter 7)
* Daily diary
* Of Interest
* The numbers
Dean’s offer to learn along with him as he and Kris attend the licensing expo in Las Vegas is nothing short of an astounding and exceptional opportunity.
If you’re on the fence about his offer to learn what he learns as he attends, at least watch the free introductory video (see “Of Interest”).
And just so you know, he’s also including his The Magic Bakery (licensing) classic workshop to all attendees free of charge (a $150 value).
We have a very long topic today. I almost decided to split it into two topics. I thought it might be easier to absorb that way. But for me, the two halves are inextricably interwoven. In the book, they’ll be presented in one chapter, so I decided not to split them here either.
Still, it might take more than one reading to absorb the sheer volume of information in this topic. So get your favorite beverage and settle back in a comfy chair. Here it comes (grin):
Topic: How to Quiet the Critical Voice (Chapter 7)
Chapter 7: Following Heinlein’s Rules and Writing Into the Dark (WITD)
Heinlein’s Rules (officially, “Heinlein’s Business Habits for Writers”) and writing into the dark are two very different things, but wow do they ever go hand in hand.
I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that becoming aware of Heinlein’s Rules and the technique of writing into the dark literally changed my life.
Of course, the Rules and the technique themselves didn’t change anything. But my becoming aware of them gave me the opportunity to change my life. After that it was all up to me.
I immediately bought into the Rules. That was easy. In fact, as I read them (see below) I thought, “Well duh.”
But to say I was skeptical of the technique of writing into the dark is an understatement.
Sure, I thought, it works for Dean Wesley Smith and other long-time professional writers, but they’ve been writing for XX number of years and have written XXX number of novels and other major works.
In other words, I was absolutely certain WITD wouldn’t work for me.
So I tried it. Mostly to prove to myself that it wouldn’t work. Once I proved that, I could leave it behind and go back to my comfort zone: writing, editing, revising, and rewriting.
Any of this sound familiar so far?
But it never happened. Once I tried writing into the dark, I never went back and I never regretted it. Once I got over the major hump of letting go of all the silly myths we were all taught about writing and once I learned to trust myself, my own abilities and my subconscious, WITD got easier and easier. As an added bonus, suddenly writing was fun! In fact, it was the most fun I’d ever had.
A little history — As I write this book (May, 2019), I became aware of Heinlein’s Rules and began writing into the dark exactly five years and two months ago.
In that time, I’ve written and published 43 novels (I’m working on novel 44 as I write this), 7 novellas, and almost 200 short stories. I’ve also compiled 30 short story collections, plus boxed sets of some of the novels and novellas.
In other words, I currently have well over 300 individual streams of revenue trickling or pouring into my bank account every month from sales of those works.
Heinlein’s Rules are both simple and harder than hell to follow:
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order. (Harlan Ellison added “and then only if you agree.)
4. You must put it on the market.
5. You must keep it on the market until it sells.
That’s it. That’s all. There’s nothing else to it.
In my case, though Heinlein didn’t say so, I took “You must write” to mean “You must write every day.” That doesn’t mean You have to write every day, but it worked for me.
Anyway, just following Rule 1 of Heinlein’s Rules will help you write off into the dark.
But first you have to understand that Thinking about writing or Talking about writing is not writing. Likewise, Researching, Editing, Revising and Rewriting are not writing. You can call them “writing-related” activities if it makes you feel better, but Writing is putting new words on the page. Period.
I won’t go into anymore detail here about Heinlein’s Rules, but you can get a complete, free, annotated copy by clicking http://harveystanbrough.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Heinleins-Business-Habits-Annotated-2.pdf.
You can find many free versions of the rules online, too, but most often they’re someone’s “interpretation” of the rules. You know — when someone says, “What Heinlein meant was ….”
But the rules don’t need to be interpreted. They’re clear and concise, and — assuming (as Heinlein did) that you have a basic grasp of the fundamentals of grammar and punctuation — if you follow them you will be a professional writer.
So let’s get down to writing into the dark.
First, at the most fundamental level, writing into the dark (or writing into the unknown, if that’s better for you) simply means writing without first creating an outline.
It’s a techniqe by which you write one clean draft, send it to a first reader or copyeditor, apply the “fixes” they recommend (and that you agree with), and then publish it. Period.
WITD means writing without first knowing where the story is going. Without giving it a conscious (critical mind) thought.
And it means as you write and you’re suddenly overcome with fear because you don’t know where the story is going next, you push the fear down and simply write the next sentence that occurs to you. Then write the next sentence. Then write the next sentence. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I took this technique, which I first learned from Dean Wesley Smith, and ran with it. I made it my own. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be teaching it or touting it.
How did I make it my own?
By continuous repetition. From the first short story I wrote “into the dark” (“Consuela”) to the WIP I’m working on today (my 44th novel), I haven’t put a word of fiction on the page that wasn’t me writing into the dark.
In other words, I haven’t consciously “thought” my way through any of those 240+ short stories, novels or novellas. Not one. And I should tell you, I haven’t ever had as much fun with my writing as I had after I started writing into the dark. Writing, now, is a sheer joy.
Anyway, somewhere along the line as I made it mine, “writing into the dark” became “letting the characters tell their own story.” For me, at least, that’s an important distinction.
That you allow the characters to tell their own story is paramount.
After all, it’s THEIR story, not yours. They, not you, are the ones who are living it.
Still LTCTTOS isn’t quite as catchy as WITD, is it? (grin) So I still refer to it as writing into the dark. But it’s the same thing, except maybe drilled down a little deeper.
If you want to try writing into the dark (and I really hope you do), there are two key steps:
1. Let Go — If you want to WITD, you have to let go of all the silly myths we were all taught about writing: that it’s “hard work”; that you must revise and rewrite, etc.
In other words, you have to let go of your fear of writing and your fear of finishing. Those boil down to a fear of rejection, which of course is a fear of failure and maybe embarrassment.
The easiest way for me to finally let go of all that was by reminding myself that I was telling stories before I even realized an alphabet existed. That was long before I knew how to form a capital letter A with two longer lines and a shorter one, much less before I knew how to form sentences. And so were you.
2. Trust your characters — At times (many times) while writing into the dark, your characters will say and do things that seem not to make sense. Many, many times you won’t know where the story’s going next.
This is one of the big places where the critical mind will pop up. First, it’ll say, “Wait, that doesn’t make sense” or “Oh my god! Where does the story go next?”
If you listen, you WILL go astray. NEVER OBEY THE CRITICAL MIND.
When the critical voice pops up with thoughts like those, ignore it. Period. When that happens to me, I even laugh out loud and say (out loud) “Shut up. It’s none of your business.”
I trust my characters to tell their story. I write the next sentence that occurs to me (the next sentence my characters give me, in either diealogue or narrative). And every time I do that, the critical voice limps away to its corner and stops bugging me.
(If you just thought “But what if you’re wrong?” that’s your critical mind using fear to stop you. And at the moment, you aren’t even writing! How insane is that? Just remember, ANY negative voice comes from the critical mind.)
If you Trust your characters and just write the next sentence, then write the next sentence, etc. the characters will lead you through to the end of the story.
And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a short story or a 100,000-word novel. Writing into the dark, trusting the characters to tell their own story, works.
Think about it for a moment: If your neighbor or friend is telling you a story and says something that is intriguing but that doesn’t make sense with what they’ve already said, do you interrupt them with “That doesn’t make sense” or do you wait and let them finish?
Show your characters the same consideration. Tell the critical voice to shut up, then type the next sentence.
Need more convincing?
Consider this: I have absolutely no stake in your writing, or in your writing process. As a decent human being, I would like very much to see you succeed, but the bottom line is, I don’t care. Not in any real way.
That’s because how you choose to write doesn’t personally affect me either directly or indirectly. I’m offering this book only for your own edification. To give you the chance to change your own life.
If you choose to (try to) adhere to Heinlein’s Rules, good for you. You will be richer for it.
If you choose to give writing into the dark “the old college try” (or if you choose not to), it won’t affect me either way.
But if you DO both of those things, there’s literally no limit to the personal rewards you can glean.
What rewards? They will range from the intangible (sense of accomplishment, freedom from someone else’s “rules,” writing in your own original voice, etc.) to actual, physical rewards. Like more titles on the shelf, increased discoverability, and more money in your bank account.
Again, I don’t have a dog in the hunt, but I do hope you’ll at least give writing into the dark a legitimate try. You will be richer for it, and who knows? Maybe someday you’ll be writing a blog and mention that you learned it from me and then made it your own.
Two final notes:
1. If you attempt to follow Heinlein’s Rules, you WILL fall off them occasionally. That’s fine. When you realize you’ve slipped, just get back on.
2. If you do try WITD and succeed, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know how it goes. If you do it right and stick with it, it can’t fail.
Rolled out at 3 this morning, got to the Hovel and wrote all of the above. Today will be a self-imposed short day again. There are two baseball games I want to watch this afternoon. (grin) So I’ll try to wrap up my writing and all the other stuff I’m doing by noon today.
To the house for a break at 5 and again at 7:30.
I was headed to the novel at 9, but honestly the day got away from me. I had a flash for tomorrow’s topic. So I opened a Notepad document to jot down a few ideas.
Next thing I knew. I’d written the entire thing (though I’ll report those words after I read over it tomorrow). And like I said, today is a short day.
So not a bad day of writing, but I do miss not visiting with Wes et al today. Even though this is the first day I’ve missed since the 6th of May. (grin) But I’ll get back to the WIP in the morning.
Talk with you again tomorrow.
See “I Jumped The Gun” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/i-jumped-the-gun/.
See “The 1 Percent Rule: Why a Few People Get Most of the Rewards in Life” at https://jamesclear.com/the-1-percent-rule. Stay with it, then turn it to your advantage. This explains why one writer is a bestseller (repeatedly) and another is lucky to sell 1000 copies.
See “A Memorial Day Potpourri” at https://terryodell.com/a-memorial-day-potpourri/.
See “How Many Serial Murderers Stalk Your Streets? 2019 Stats” at https://www.suecoletta.com/how-many-serial-murderers-stalk-your-streets-2019-stats/.
See “Deadly Plastic: 3D Gun Printing” at https://www.leelofland.com/deadly-plastic-3d-gun-printing/. For those of you who might want to include such weapons in your fiction.
Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 2230 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 2230
Writing of In the Cantina at Noon (novel)
Day 10… 1365 words. Total words to date…… 20874
Day 11… 3696 words. Total words to date…… 24570
Day 14… 1050 words. Total words to date…… 25620
Day 15… 1622 words. Total words to date…… 27242
Day 16… 1413 words. Total words to date…… 28655
Day 17… 2098 words. Total words to date…… 30753
Day 18… 1222 words. Total words to date…… 31975
Day 19… 2586 words. Total words to date…… 34561
Day 20… 1890 words. Total words to date…… 36451
Day 21… 2961 words. Total words to date…… 39412
Day 22… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX
Total fiction words for the month……… 39412
Total fiction words for the year………… 300882
Total nonfiction words for the month… 305300
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 142390
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 443272
Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 6
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 43
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 194
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
2 thoughts on “The Daily Journal, Friday, May 24”
Harvey, I just wanted to iterate how much I love your new series on the critical voice and WitD (AKA LTCTTOS). I can’t wait until you publish the book.
BTW, I’m 16 days into a new writing streak and your newsletter often keeps me going on those tired evenings. So, thanks for that as well.
Thanks, Phillip. I appreciate that. Good to know it helps. And good job on getting a new writing streak going!
Comments are closed.